By MICHAEL HELMS
The best horror films, even when leavened with blackly comic moments, are always harrowing. Few fright flicks are based on the first-hand experiences of their creators, however; an exception is THE FACELESS MAN, written, directed and produced by feature first-timer James Di Martino and based directly on his own life as a cancer survivor. He spoke to RUE MORGUE about the movie, and provided some exclusive concept art and behind-the-scenes pics.
Shot largely in the bayside resort town of Dromana, just under an hour out of Melbourne—and virtually within spitting distance of one of the last three drive-ins operating in Victoria—THE FACELESS MAN revolves around the character of Emily Beckman, played by Sophie Thurling. Joining Thurling are Lucas Pittaway (THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS) and such seasoned names as Roger Ward (MAD MAX, both versions of TURKEY SHOOT), Andy McPhee (the feature and TV editions of WOLF CREEK, SONS OF ANARCHY) and Albert Goikhman.
The official synopsis goes like this: “Three years after Emily has recovered from cancer, she struggles to adjust back to everyday life. Living in fear of redeveloping the fatal disease, a manifestation haunts her from the depths of her subconscious in the form of a faceless creature; her fear incarnate. On a weekend getaway at a secluded holiday house in a small rural town, Emily and her friends unexpectedly find themselves caught between local authorities, Russian mobsters in search of stolen goods and the appearance of the Faceless Man.”
“THE FACELESS MAN is a project I have been working on for the last year,” Di Martino tells us. “The script went through 17 drafts. It’s amazing how much the story has changed—for the better—from when it first started, and how much the actors brought to changing the tone of the story. While it’s full-on horror, it draws on some very dark themes and personal experience that was actually a joy to write. Some characters are so crazy/wacky that writing them and seeing their arc over the course of the script was a real delight.”
The triple-threat filmmaker, who is also editing THE FACELESS MAN, continues, “THE EVIL DEAD—the film and how it was made—is a big inspiration, and while there are no zombies or Deadites, we have the Faceless Man, a parasite monster that is just as scary, able to manifest itself as fear and corrupt people. The town this takes place in is like Mick Taylor from WOLF CREEK had built it, and let people as wacky and ruthless as himself run it. There are echoes of SAW when people are thrust into brutal situations and forced into moments of insanity.”
As far as the film’s look is concerned, Di Martino relates, “Inneke Smith is my production designer. She’s amazing, and as this is a horror film, we needed to get the design and art on point to make it look the best we could—which shades of blood to use and how to make the moments of terror come out unsettling. When it came to creating the Faceless Man, we started by getting the very talented Perth-based concept artist Austen Mengler involved. He has created a legion of harrowing original characters over the years for Australian and international projects. His horrific style suits the tone of the film, and was a great asset in the concept stages of preproduction, keeping the film true to the genre and creating something that is both frightening and original. Once we were happy with his concept, we moved on to the next step, which was making everything from scratch. No CGI will be used in the film.”
The Faceless Man, as well as the other makeup effects, were created by Emma Rose. “Dale Bamford, who worked on WOLF CREEK, assisted with its construction,” Di Martino notes. “Emma’s creativity was at a high level to produce something with the same vision I had, while keeping consistent with Austen’s design.”
While Di Martino works to get THE FACELESS MAN through postproduction so that it looks its best for the American Film Market in November, he’ll be taking a little time to present his short FIVE O’CLOCK—in which he also has an onscreen role—when it appears with Mark Savage’s new feature PURGATORY ROAD as the opening-night presentation this Friday, October 26 at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. For more on THE FACELESS MAN and Di Martino’s multimedia production company Chapter 5 Studios, check out its official website and Facebook page.